AU: Alternative Medicine Crackdown

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Homeopaths are facing a fight to defend their practice in Australia after the National Health and Medical Research Council flagged it might declare their work baseless and unethical.

draft public statement seen by The Age concluded it was ”unethical for health practitioners to treat patients using homeopathy, for the reason that homeopathy (as a medicine or procedure) has been shown not to be efficacious”.

The confidential statement, which was not meant to be distributed, is based on a 2010 evaluation of homeopathy by the British House of Commons science and technology committee, which declared it was no more efficacious than a placebo.

Homeopathy is based on the principles of ”like-cures-like” and ”ultra-dilutions”. The first says substances that can cause symptoms can be used in diluted form to treat the same symptom in an illness, and the second says the more dilute a substance is, the more potent it is.

While homeopathy continues to enjoy the support of Britain’s royal family and is funded through the UK’s National Health Service, the House of Commons report found its principles were ”theoretically weak” and ”scientifically implausible”.

The draft statement by Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council said that although homeopathy was not harmful in its own right, it might pose a risk to patients if safe and efficacious conventional treatments were delayed in favour of homeopathic treatments.

It said homeopathy, which uses a large range of animal, plant and mineral products, should not be confused with herbal remedies.

A council spokesman would not comment on the draft, but said it was reviewing the efficacy of complementary and alternative medicines, including homeopathy, and would release its findings in due course.

Australian Medical Association president Steve Hambleton backed the council’s draft statement. He said he hoped it would force health insurers to reconsider their funding of homeopathy, as well as other ”questionable” therapies such as iridology and reflexology.

”I think it will put them in a very difficult situation … If the NHMRC looks at the evidence and says this doesn’t work, we can’t support it, you’d have to ask the insurers if they will continue to fund something that a very reputable body disagrees with,” he said.

The Australian Association of Professional Homeopaths Inc says 47 health insurers, including Medibank Private and NIB, cover homeopathic consultations and medicines.

Australian Homeopathic Association president Greg Cope said there was strong evidence to support the practice, including clinical trials that were now being submitted to the NHMRC for consideration.

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